Where there is dirt, there is a farmer. It’s a universal fact. But how does one grow food in arid desert climates? Which plants and scale thrive? What techniques work in the extreme weather conditions – lack of water, abundant sand, gripping winds, antelope squirrels and rabbits, flash floods, and endless sun? Joshua Tree Voice correspondent, T. Hammidi, interviewed small scale farmers and master gardeners in the Mojave Desert to discuss strategies, joys, and tools for growing food, negotiating water scarcity, and thriving in one of the harshest landscapes in North America.
JOSHUA TREE farmer/owner Christian Camargo
Sunever Farm farmer / owner Christian Camargo believes that studying the desert land and its creatures will inspire solutions to our region’s increasing water scarcity. “How does nature solve the problem?” he asked. “Nature has been around forever.” Camargo pointed my eyeline to an Eastern horizon line on his 20 acre farm, a former Asian pear orchard reconceptualized by designer Stephanie Smith in the early 2010’s as a native food oasis with multiple zones. He then pointed toward a Northern downhill slope, “Look at the plants over here, compared to over there.” The clusters of plant life shifted along the rolling mesa, telling a story about where water flowed. “It tells you everything you need to know”, Camargo said gently.
Christian Camargo, a Mexican – American descendant of 4-5 generations of storytellers and ranchers, says that his family “always had their feet in the ground.” His mother was a vaudeville actress from Mexico, his father a So Cal rancher. One might assume that this matrix of creativity explains why an accomplished Hollywood actor such as Camargo (Brian Moser in Dexter, Michael Corrigan in House of Cards and Eleazar in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Parts 1 and 2) would dive into life as a farmer. Rather, Camargo’s story is about health, beginning with his cancer journey in 2005. Then, turning to natural foods and medicinal plants to balance his system, he recognized the profound positive benefits he experienced from olive oil. “Olive oil was a strong medical food” inspiring him to buy Sunever Farm. Intent on fulfilling Smith’s vision for a diverse, native food oasis and farm education site, Camargo added his own vision for a grove of 400 olive trees, featuring global varieties, utilizing waterwise mulching and moisture programs.